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Posts Tagged Girl Friday Productions

Personal Highlights of the Past Season

The Diary of Anne Frank at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018 - Actors playing Anne Frank & Father

It has been 75 years since Anne Frank was given a diary by her father. The Diary of Anne Frank remains a perennial favorite of school groups. This coming season, limited evening performances will also be available. (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Always, the Education Program

Park Square takes great pride in its Education Program for good reasons. It’s a powerfully transformative program, not just for its effect on its young audiences but also as an inspiration within our own organization. Mindfully created and led by the incomparable Mary Finnerty since 1994, the Education Program has often served as first exposure of professional theatre to young audiences. But you can see how it’s much more than that in such defining moments as when the lightbulb of understanding lit up for a student while Sulia Rose Altenberg, who played Anne Frank, answered his question as to why the Jews didn’t simply pretend to be Christians or the teacher of a Somali group explained that they came to be exposed to a broader community. Our Education Program provides a safe venue for our young patrons to grapple with self-discovery, self-definition and social interconnectedness. It has also been a catalyst for Park Square to consider those very same issues within its own walls. Impactful is only one adjective that best describes “The Program That Mary Built” (see the August 16, 2016, blog post).

A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, MN - 2018

A Raisin in the Sun knocked our socks off and will be back for another season by popular demand. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Staying In the Thick of It

Park Square Theatre, with its long-held reputation as a white mainstream institution, has had to do much organizational soul-searching to embrace change. Is having to grapple with equity, diversity and inclusion a long and messy process? Does building trust feel hard-won or, more aptly, simply hard? Do they sometimes get things wrong (and, of course, right)? Have they kept forging ahead? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Mu Performing Arts co-produced Flower Drum Song with Park Square Theatre and returns with another production in the upcoming season.

The Independents

Collaborations with smaller independent companies through its co-production of Flower Drum Song with Mu Performing Arts and productions by its Theatres in Residence–Sandbox Theatre, Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions–broadened the season’s scope. I loved the “one-stop shop” to be able to try out new companies and see what they’re all about. Look forward to French Twist by Flying Foot Forum and the return of Mu Performing Arts for A Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity in our upcoming season.

H. Adam Harris and Kathryn Fumie in this past season’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

Having been one of the volunteer script readers to consider this complex, time-jumping, contemporary play for production, it was exciting to see it finally come to fruition on stage. The thumbs up on the script was actually a tough call, surmising its challenge for audiences to grasp–both its pro and con. The play really made me think about the state of human relationships in our techno-world. Did it do the same for you? It also had one of the most beautiful sets ever by Set Designer Lance Brockman and moving performances by actors Kathryn Fumie, Adam Whisner and H. Adam Harris in roles that let their own true souls shine through their fictional facades. Hope you were there! Note: Contact John White, Literary Management Volunteer (white@Parksquaretheatre.org), to discuss your interest to become a volunteer script reader.

Jamil Jude with Hope Cervantes, who was in this past season’s The House on Mango Street
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude, Park Square’s former Artistic Programming Associate

When Jamil had just been on board for several months, someone asked me, “Do you even know what he does here?” Guess what a young man with an expansive heart and the passion to build bridges and break down walls has done within his relatively short time in the Twin Cities community? Break a leg at your new gig in Atlanta! (Refer to past blogs “Jamil Jude, Artist Plus,” “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?” and “Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You.”)

The Conversations That Became Real

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

In an industry that endlessly tries to grab a piece of you, remaining guarded is an act of self-care and self-preservation. You’re constantly navigating the minefields of others’ self-interests and being put in compromising situations. Who do you want to be in those circumstances? Who must you become? Who are you really? Whenever you get a glimpse into a theatre professional’s inner humanity, it’s a golden moment for sure! Theatre professionals rock!

Vincent HannamMy Fellow Bloggers

Getting Eric “Pogi” Sumangil on the team for this past season and blogging for another year with the wholehearted Vincent Hannam were awesome, to say the least. As the only blogger without a theatre background and career, following these two’s works online and onstage served as terrific learning tools. Each of us wrote around complex schedules due to multiple gigs and personal responsibilities. Thanks for being there!

 

Continue to be Delighted

Be sure to come in from the summer heat to catch the final performances of Girl Friday Productions’ Idiot’s Delight on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Stage. This is the show’s final week, with tickets still available for all four remaining dates (July 20, 21, 22 and 23), but we encourage folks to buy now to guarantee a spot!

Girl Friday’s reputation for exceptionally high-quality ensemble work attracts some of the Twin Cities’ most talented actors to be in its plays. After July, you can catch several Idiot’s Delight cast members again in the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Minnesota State Fair or other productions this fall!

AT THE MINNESOTA FRINGE FESTIVAL (August 3 – 13)

Kirby Bennett (Signora Pittaluga, the Italian resort owner in Idiot’s Delight) 

  • Much Ado About Nothing (as told by Dogberry and Verges) with Rough Magic Performance Company – Playing at Jungle Theater
  • Shakespeare’s classic comedy of love/hate relationships made modern by six women and two puppets. A hilarious and moving tale of love, jealousy, trickery and redemption with a fresh and feminist perspective.
  • This show is appropriate for ages 12 to 15 and up.
  • Sunday, August 6, 1 pm; Monday, August 7, 10 pm; Tuesday, August 8, 8:30 pm; Friday, August 11, 5:30 pm; Sunday, August 13, 5:30 pm

Karissa Lade (Beulah, one of the blonde entertainers in Idiot’s Delight)

  • The Wright Stuff, or You’ll Believe They Can Fly! with Outlandish Productions – Playing at Mixed Blood Theatre
  • The story of two brothers who got knocked down–but they got up again. Nothing’s ever going to keep them down.
  • This show is appropriate for ages 12 to 15 and up.
  • Thursday, August 3, 5:30 pm; Saturday, August 5, 7 pm; Monday, August 7, 5:30 pm; Wednesday, August 9, 7 pm; Saturday, August 12, 1 pm

Kory LaQuess Pullam (Quillery, a French socialist in Idiot’s Delight)

  • Odd Man Out with Underdog Theatre – Playing at University of Minnesota Rarig Center Arena (Kory founded Underdog Theatre and wrote Odd Man Out)
  • The death of a family patriarch summons James to his hometown in South Texas. Once he arrives, James is confronted with issues of the past and present. Nothing is left on the table in this world premier drama.
  • This show is appropriate for ages 16+.
  • Friday, August 4, 7 pm; Sunday, August 6, 10 pm; Thursday, August 10, 5:30 pm; Saturday, August 12, 8:30 pm; Sunday, August 13, 2:30 pm)

Kory LaQuess Pullam (Quillery, a French socialist in Idiot’s Delight)

  • Blackout Improv with Rogues Gallery Arts – Playing at Phoenix Theater
  • Members of this all person of color improv team take on the Minnesota Fringe in a way that only they can, with humor, swag and a focus on social issues. Each performance will feature an amazing special guest!
  • This show is appropriate for ages 16+.
  • Thursday, August 3, 7 pm; Saturday, August 5, 7 pm; Monday, August 7, 8:30 pm; Wednesday, August 9, 5:30 pm; Thursday, August 10, 8:30 pm

AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR (August 24 – September 4)

Bonni Allen (Shirley, a blonde entertainer in Idiot’s Delight) and Kory LaQuess Pullam (Quillery, a French socialist in Idiot’s Delight)

  • History on a Schtick at the Schilling Amphitheater with the Minnesota Historical Society
  • Daily at 9:30 am and 10:30 am (30 minutes performance time)

IN FALL PRODUCTIONS

Bonni Allen (Shirley, a blonde entertainer in Idiot’s Delight)

  • Sam’s Son with Bucket Brigade at Art House North
  • A prohibition-era bluegrass musical inspired by the story of Samson
  • October 6 – 28

Becca Hart (Bebe, a blonde entertainer in Idiot’s Delight)

  • The Music Man at Artistry
  • Meredith Wilson’s six-time, Tony Award-winning musical comedy–family entertainment at its best
  • October 13 – November 5

Eric Knutson (Captain Locicero, an Italian Army officer in Idiot’s Delight)

  • All the Way at the History Theatre
  • A reconstruction of Lyndon Johnson’s dramatic first year as president
  • October 7 – 29

John Middleton (Harry Van, an American entertainer in Idiot’s Delight)

  • Henry and Alice: Into the Wild at Park Square Theatre
  • The hilarious follow up to the smash hit Sexy Laundry
  • September 15 – October 22

Kory LaQuess Pullam (Quillery, a French socialist in Idiot’s Delight)

  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare at Park Square Theatre
  • October 13 – November 11

Karen Wiese-Thompson (Dr. Waldersee, a German scientist in Idiot’s Delight)

  • Electra by Euripides at Ten Thousand Things
  • September 28 – November 5

Kory LaQuess Pullam: Rooting for the Underdogs

In Girl Friday’s production of Idiot’s Delight at Park Square Theatre running through July 23, Kory LaQuess Pullam plays Quillery, a French socialist who pays a high price for speaking truth to power. In an uncertain world at the brink of war, Quillery serves as a moral compass.

What drew Kory to want to be in Idiot’s Delight was the opportunity to work with the highly regarded Girl Friday Productions and the Ivey-winning director of the play, Craig Johnson. He also wanted to be in an artistically collaborative endeavor that promotes growth for all involved. This required an honest self-appraisal as to what he himself could bring to the table as part of the eclectic group of talented artists in the show.

“I’m also drawn to a relevant story that speaks to society and has meaning to an audience,” Kory said. “The themes of Idiot’s Delight reflect what’s going on today. The growing reality of a world war and global tensions drew me in.”

Some of the cast members of Idiot’s Delight
(photo by Richard Fleischman)

Kory looks to play characters who mean something to him or intrigue him. Sometimes that is “someone I can see myself in but not be”–someone like Quillery.

“Quillery cares deeply about politics and standing up for what’s right,” said Kory. “But he’s extreme in how he goes about what he wants and cares about.”

Kory himself is more even-keeled but would not stand by either if he sees a need to act upon a situation.  “I’m reserved until I see the need to be outspoken,” Kory said. ” I won’t shy away from tough conversations in matters of right and wrong. I have Quillery’s passion for what I believe is right and doing for my community.”

It is this very passion that led Kory to be a founder of two groundbreaking arts entities in the Twin Cities: Blackout Improv and Underdog Theatre. The former is the Twin Cities’ first ever all black improv group with a goal “to create comedic dialogue around serious truths,” not only through performances but also via educational workshops in schools, nonprofits and corporations. The latter’s mission is “to create art for the underserved, underrepresented and unheard,” with an inaugural production of Baltimore is Burning this past fall and the upcoming Odd Man Out in this summer’s Minnesota Fringe Festival. Both plays, written by Kory, hit on hard truths about being Black in America.

Like his character in Idiot’s Delight, Kory is not one to tiptoe around “an elephant in the room.” As such, no doubt he’ll be someone to look out for as part of a new generation of compelling theatre artists in our midst.

Addie’s Delight

Playing a part in Idiot’s Delight from Girl Friday Productions at Park Square is Adelin Phelps, who portrays the character Mrs. Cherry. I was able to catch up with her and ask her some of what she thought about the show and the relevance it can hold in our 21st century world.

From Madison, Wisconsin, she attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, receiving her B.A. in acting. Immediately after graduation, she moved on up to the Twin Cities to pursue a career in the theatre. In her time here she has firmly established herself as a performer and collaborator, working with such noted companies as Minnesota Jewish Theatre, History Theatre, Theatre Latte Da, Walking Shadow and Frank Theatre. If that’s not enough, she is a core and founding member of Transatlantic Love Affair, a group that has earned a bevy of recognition in recent years. She now finds herself within the ranks of Girl Friday Productions and the grand cast of Idiot’s Delight – Robert Sherwood’s prophetic satire on the state of the world just prior to the outbreak of World War II. This marks her debut with Girl Friday, and her second time on a Park Square stage (following 2012’s King Lear).

While definitely not from the world of medieval England, Mrs. Cherry does happen to be a Brit among the band of internationals holed up in the Alpine hotel in which Idiot’s Delight takes place. Young and newly married to the dashing Mr. Cherry (Gabriel Murphy), she must reconcile the joys of kissing, dancing and abundant love with the stark realities of encroaching war. Those themes certainly lend themsevles to the political strife currently swirling around the world, not just at home, and how we are able to overcome that discord is a central question of the piece. As Phelps says, The need for humor, the struggle for an open, brave heart, the importance to understand history, and connecting with other humans… that draws me as a person to the project.”

Especially the benefits of connecting with other humans is apparent in Sherwood’s play. An ensemble cast of characters all born in different countries are suddenly forced into company with each other, thanks to the actions of their own governments. In a sense of irony, the very people they should be at war with become their friends within the walls of the hotel.

All these international characters is most exciting to Phelps who relishes the chance to use her sense of play and imagination in creating a dialect or new physicality to bring her role to life. And the dancing! There’s much for any actor to sink their teeth into and Phelps is eager to share that infectious zeal with the audiences. Indeed, viewers are in for a treat when they take their seats this summer. Phelps has been delighted to work with Girl Friday Productions and director, Craig Johnson in getting to tell such a story!

 

 

Making the Past Present

Something you’ll hear a lot about in regards to Idiot’s Delight, is the history of the events taking place and how it can arguably be a mirror to today’s world. If history does indeed repeat itself, then can this play serve as a guide book to our future? Perhaps not even a guidebook, but a warning? With stakes that high, I wouldn’t recommend missing out on this one!

Dramaturg Kit Gordon. (Courtesy photo)

Helping to make sense of all this, for the actors as well as the audience, is the role of the dramaturg. Serving in this role is long time Girl Friday dramaturg, Kit Gordon, who has been involved with the company since the earliest days. She is also a company member of Theatre Pro Rata and has served as their resident dramaturg for a number of years as well. 

What skills lend themselves to being a good dramaturg? Certainly a passion for history and theatre, but also finding a joy in academic research. Gordon studied all of it in college and worked in the humanities, English literature and women’s studies. She then went on to complete her PhD in English, with a focus on Shakespeare within her own experiences as a teacher, writer and theatre practitioner. Up until 2013, her day job was an undergraduate academic adviser at the University of Minnesota.

When it comes to dramaturgy, Gordon’s loves the research but is quick to point out that her job is “not to have all the answers but to know where to find them”, as stated in a 2014 interview with Chris Hewitt in the Pioneer Press

I asked her to expand upon some of the themes of Idiot’s Delight and comment on all of the drawing-a-parallel-to-our-modern-world talk that’s been going on with this play. Echoing sentiments of Adelin Phelps and Craig Johnson, she says:

 

Our world is in some ways more complex than it was in 1936, but people are still people – and some of them are dangerous. While the parallels are not exact, the emotions that spring from our fears about what might happen (with ISIS, with North Korea, with radical political movements in the U.S.) are similar to those felt by characters in the play… I think that by exploring the dilemmas of the characters in the play, we explore our own.”

 

No matter what the “big picture” is, it seems to all boil down to the people in the room and the relationships they hold with each other. That’s what turns a good story into a riveting drama and what Girl Friday excels so much at bringing to life. Like any meaningful work of art, this play has an ability to make you think. Oh, you’ll laugh, for sure. Maybe so hard as to produce a tear, but you’re still bound to come away with a new sense of humanity – how special it really is to be able to live and love in peace.

You can check out Girl Friday’s website here and see the online study guide compiled by Kit Gordon! https://www.girlfridayproductions.org/upcoming-show

 

Craig Johnson on Reviving a Classic

In anticipation of Idiot’s Delight, this year’s offering from Girl Friday Productions at Park Square, I wanted to get to know more about some of the creative souls behind the show. Who are they and what part do they play in bringing such a production to life?

In combing through the wildly impressive credits of actors and designers, I gravitated to the person at the helm and decided to ask him a few questions first. As the director, Craig Johnson, is no rookie when it comes to either the theatre, Park Square or Girl Friday. According to his profile on Minnesotaplaylist.com, he’s a veteran of 200 productions, including 52 at Park Square over the years. This includes multiple awards and recognitions, especially for his work with Girl Friday Productions which include Our Town (director), Street Scene (director), Camino Real (actor) and The Matchmaker (director) which was one of the first shows to grace the Andy Boss Thrust at Park Square a couple of summers ago. This year, now he is in charge of Idiot’s Delight by Robert Sherwood and offers his take on the play.

What about this play drew you to the project? What speaks to you as an artist and perhaps, a “normal” person?

Idiot’s Delight…um…delighted me on several levels when I first read it. I have a nostalgic love for these big, sleek, well-constructed, entertaining yet thoughtful, limousine-like plays that Broadway produced in its heyday between the wars. It was a time when a lot of people could afford to go to the theater regularly. Of course this was mainly people in the New York area, but it was a wide swath of the population, and the good plays usually went out on tour around the country and got picked up by resident stock companies in places like Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I like dusting off these old plays whose names and authors I recognize but have never seen or read, and hoping they still have something to say to us. And I like when one of these plays, like Idiot’s Delight, still resonates. It connects us to our shared theatrical history that broadens that stream beyond yet another revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Uncle Vanya, or The Importance of Being Earnest — just to name three plays I absolutely love!

You’re a history buff, are there parallels to our current world situation? If so, how do you highlight this in the production? (Maybe without giving too much away!)

Author Robert Sherwood wrote Idiot’s Delight in 1936, during the depths of the Great Depression, when many were becoming increasingly alarmed by the threat of European fascism in Italy and Germany. He imagines how another world war might occur–and was startlingly accurate in some ways to actual events just a few years in the future. That alone is fascinating. But the play also looks at the toxic brew of populism, nationalism, xenophobia, and militarism, and how those forces can lead a culture away from civil society toward barbarism. In that, sadly, many might see echoes of current events making headlines in the US and Europe. So the play works as a sober cautionary tale.

You’ve worked a ton with Girl Friday Productions. What keeps you coming back to GFP?

Well, I’ve known GFP artistic director Kirby Bennett for many years — she’s a friend, neighbor, and colleague. I so admire the unique niche she’s carved out in the rich theatrical ecosystem of the Twin Cities. GFP does one show every two years. They are large-scale shows that most small professional companies wouldn’t touch because of the personnel expense. But Kirby’s care and thoughtful planning is much appreciated by actors and designers. The scripts, too, carry an interesting thread — they are usually about what it means to be an American. They’re plays that still carry meaning and hope for us today, even though they cluster in that rich period of American writing from the 1920s to the 1950s. Some productions like Our Town revisit familiar texts, but others, like Camino Real and Street Scene are like Idiot’s Delight plays once heralded that we think warrant coming off the bookshelf and having another turn in the spotlight.

I should probably get your basic info: Where do you come from in life and artistically? Your college/ training, hometown, etc.

I was born and raised in Saint Paul — though because of my Dad’s job with 3M we lived overseas in Tokyo and Belgium for several years when I was growing up. I’ve been doing plays since my triumphant debut in Green Eggs and Ham in 6th grade. I went to the University of Minnesota, and after a long career doubling my theater work with my job managing the James J. Hill House for the Minnesota Historical Society, I now focus on acting, directing and teaching full time. And love every minute of it. Also I’ve done 52 shows at Park Square going back to 1979, so this is like home to me.

What do you want audiences to come away thinking and/or feeling after seeing this show?

I hope audiences appreciate the thoughtful balance of entertainment and social commentary that Sherwood offers. There are show tunes to enjoy, a rich tapestry of quirky characters to laugh at, and a poignant love story. But there are important questions to ponder: How should Americans interact with the rest of the world? What are the forces that harden us against our neighbors? What does it mean to close a border — to keep some inside and others out? How do we balance freedom and security?

There you have it, folks, I could not have said it any better myself!

Come see just what Johnson means this summer at Park Square where Girl Friday Productions will be presenting Idiot’s Delight on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage June 29 – July 23.

Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You

Jamil Jude

Park Square Theatre was blessed to have Jamil Jude join its artistic/production team in December 2015 to begin a two-year mentorship with Artistic Director Richard Cook, made possible through a prestigious Leadership U[niversity] – One-on-One Program award of a two-year grant to fund Jamil’s professional development via a mentorship. Jamil was one of only six early-career leaders from all areas of theatre throughout the nation to receive such an award.

At Park Square Theatre, Jamil was given the title of Artistic Programming Associate, and he was placed in the foreground to help the organization remain a relevant theatre in a community with a demographic that will continue to shift towards greater diversity. During his mentorship, he would move forward the theater’s vision to be “intentionally diverse” and practice “radical inclusivity” (both terms appear in Park Square’s website).

Richard Cook

It has been nearly a decade-long journey to prepare Park Square for the 21st century and beyond. This mission was initially envisioned by Richard as he witnessed the impact of live theatre on students, particularly students of color, attending its Education programs. The long journey is not surprising as institutionalized exclusionary practices are difficult to dismantle to be able to support truly inclusionary practices. An organization must have strong leadership support and clear and consistent buy-in both from within and without to be able to broaden its scope.

In his short time here, Jamil especially impacted Park Square by being a skilled connector and unifier, doing the very hard work of fostering trust amongst diverse artist communities and giving generous access to his broader network. He has also provided crucial insights and suggestions to challenge the same old approaches in the theater’s programming and audience outreach. Some changes were made in tailoring post-show discussions for diverse student audiences, making script selections and recruiting and attracting more diverse talent to be onstage, behind the scenes, and as instructors for workshops. All his actions accelerated the impact of making real, lasting changes. However, there is still quite a bit to do even as Jamil’s mentorship comes to an end after June and the Artistic Programming Associate position dissolves.

While Park Square is a top employer of local stage talent, 64 percent of whom are women and artists of color, it still has no core staff (including leadership positions) and just one board member of color. But a few years ago, it created the role of Artistic Associate for the purpose of broadening the organization’s perspectives, and recruited Aditi Kapil, Carson Kreitzer, Ricardo Vazquez and James A. Williams to serve as ongoing Artistic Associates. Park Square has also invited local theatre companies, such as Girl Friday Productions, Sandbox Theatre Company, Theatre Pro Rata and Wonderlust Productions, to become Theatres in Residence and partnered with Mu Performing Arts to produce this season’s Flower Drum Song as mutually beneficial exposure to new audiences.

Currently, Park Square is partnering with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce to create a Community Advisory Board made up of people of color to give ideas and feedback on what types of stories need to be told on stages and who to share them with–in short, to engage in honest dialogue to better understand how Park Square fits within an evolving community. On June 21 from 5-6 pm, Jamil will be a facilitator for “Cocktails and Conversation” in our Proscenium lobby for professionals of color to give such feedback.

Only time will tell what the future holds for Park Square Theatre without the transformational presence of Jamil. It’s more difficult to question and alter inherent biases and beliefs than to organically build from the ground up with that vision in mind the way that a new organization, such as Full Circle Theater Company, can do. It’s more difficult to transform an organization with individuals at different spectrums of cultural competency regarding issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Any stall into complacency, regression into status quo or backslide into habituated ways of doing things negatively impacts the outcome. Park Square will steadily need to match good intent with continued action to move forward into its total vision.

Jamil himself will move forward to Atlanta, Georgia, where he will become True Colors Theatre Company’s Associate Artistic Director. At True Colors, Jamil will also get to direct a play each year and, for the first time in his career, focus his energy within one organization rather than be, as he described, “split-brained” amongst multiple organizations and freelance projects.

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

While Jamil has certainly left his mark on Park Square Theatre, what many may not know is the wider impact he has also had on the Twin Cities theatre scene since his arrival in Minnesota in 2011. From 2011 to 2014, he worked for Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis’ West Bank as its National New Play Network Producer in Residence and created and facilitated artist/educator-audience discussions as its Free Speech Program Director. Jamil made another strong impression in 2013, receiving the year-long Playwright Center’s Many Voices Mentorship to help Minnesota-based playwright of color hone one’s craft. Within a few years, Jamil had further widened his circle and influence, joining the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Theatre Alliance (2012-16), the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (both since 2014). In 2015, he had founded the New Griots Festival to promote the work of Twin Cities black artists into the future; the festival will return this year at the Guthrie from July 6 to 16. In 2016, he directed the highly relevant and critically praised inaugural productions of Underdog Theatre’s Baltimore is Burning, written by local artist Kory LaQuess Pullam, founder of Underdog Theatre, as well as local playwright Josh Wilder’s The Highwaymen at The History Theatre in St. Paul.

Park Square Theatre and the Twin Cities theatre community will dearly miss Jamil Jude. Not only could he inspire us, but more importantly, he brought people together to get things done. Jamil Jude has left things better than when he’d arrived. What more could we ask for? We are very grateful and wish him well.

—-

(Note: Be sure to also read the previous blog post, “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?”)


 

GIRL FRIDAY: The Name Says It All

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “Girl Friday” was first used in 1928 to describe “a woman who does many different jobs in an office.” The definition in the Urban Dictionary is more expansive, dubbing a “Girl Friday” as a “go-to girl” or “a female who acts as a ‘jack of all trades’ and is capable of doing almost anything.”

It was hard to miss just how perfectly Girl Friday Productions fit its name as I spoke with Kirby Bennett about her 13-year-old theatre company. Both a founder and its artistic director, Kirby also manages the organizational and fundraising tasks for its shows as well as acting in each production. In 2012, with the guidance of volunteer counsel Mike Bash, she completed the arduous task of obtaining 501(c) (3) non-profit status for Girl Friday, and she continues to do whatever necessary to keep it viable, relevant, creative and fun. Kirby is, quite frankly, a Girl Friday.

“Tenacity” is a term that also comes to mind to describe Kirby. Again, that is not surprising given her choice of plays that, time and again, feature the resilience of human beings. In fact, Girl Friday Productions’ Idiot’s Delight, on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage from June 29 to July 23, reveals that very quality of the human spirit in a play with a cast of eccentric characters stranded in a European mountaintop resort, unable to cross closed borders, at the outbreak of World War II.

In meeting Girl Friday’s vision “to seek out plays that embody great literature, humanity, relevance and stimulating theatricality,” Kirby does insist that whatever script chosen has substantive female roles.

“All of our productions have had strong roles and voices for women,” Kirby said, “and Idiot’s Delight has a great central female role, and fun and intriguing female supporting roles.”

 

Stacia Rice & John Middleton in Idiot’s Delight
(Photo by Richard Fleischman)

 

Though Kirby sets this particular criteria, Girl Friday’s play selection process is actually collaborative. According to Kirby, “There is no formal committee. I just periodically bring people together to read plays aloud. And I read on my own any title suggested to me!”

This collaborative spirit is aptly at the core of Girl Friday Productions, considering its commitment to large-scale ensemble performances.

While the term “Girl Friday” denotes a person’s awesome capabilities to do “almost anything,” it also carries an out-reaching connotation of how individuals working together can do anything.

As Kirby put it best, “The sum of the whole is greater than the individual.”

——

(Note: Be sure to read the prior blog post, “GIRL FRIDAY PRODUCTIONS: From Dream to Reality.”)

GIRL FRIDAY PRODUCTIONS: From Dream to Reality

Though a small professional theatre company, Girl Friday Productions consistently aims to do it big. Created with the “We can do it!” spirit of Kirby Bennett and Natalie Diem Lewis in 2004, Girl Friday’s mission is to stage high-quality large ensemble performances of rarely produced American classics, such as Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage in 2015. From June 29 to July 23, they return to our Boss Stage with the 1936 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Idiot’s Delight by Robert E. Sherwood.

“Girl Friday Productions is the result of intention and happy accident,” said Kirby Bennett, its artistic leader.

 

Founder & Artistic Director Kirby Bennett

After performing in several productions with the Mary Worth Theatre Company founded by Joel Sass, Kirby and Natalie were inspired to think about producing theater, both as a creative outlet and “as a way to contribute to the independent theatre scene that had been so important to us.” In February of 2004, Natalie just happened to have space reserved at the Bryant Lane Bowl so they made use of it to present the epistolary plays Love Letters by A. R. Gurney and Hate Mail by co-writers Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky. The following year, Girl Friday mounted its first fully staged production, An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf by Michael Hollinger, at the People’s Center Theater in Minneapolis’ West Bank.

Since then, Girl Friday has staged a singular major project every two years. Difficulty in finding available performance spaces, not to mention all the other rigors of planning any production, initially dictated Girl Friday’s long production cycles. This cycle inevitably became its natural rhythm and intentional choice, as the best way to maximize the company’s efforts to work with challenging texts, large and skilled ensemble casts, and distinguished directors and designers.

In 2011, Kirby was appointed Artistic Director by its Board (Natalie had since moved to Los Angeles); and in 2012, Girl Friday received 501(c) (3) non-profit status. Its shows repeatedly garner accolades from audience and critics alike:

Our Town by Thorton Wilder – Pioneer Press 2007 “Top Ten Shows” List

The Skin of Our Teeth by Thorton Wilder – MinnPost 2009 “Favorites” List

Street Scene by Elmer Rice – Star Tribune, Pioneer Press & Lavendar 2011 “Top Ten” Lists; Ivey Award for Director Craig Johnson

Camino Real by Tennessee Williams – Lavender 2013 notable performances recognition

The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder – Cherry and Spoon 2015 Favorites

Girl Friday’s consistent excellence is no accident and, certainly, no small feat for a small, independent theatre company. Besides its vision to, as Kirby put it, “produce great plays and be able to do it freely, we also wanted to make sure that we maintain high standards.” That intentionality remains a strong pull for some of the Twin Cities’ finest theatre professionals, such as Idiot’s Delight leads Stacia Rice and John Middleton and Director Craig Johnson, to want to work with Girl Friday Productions. That reputation is also what steadily keeps audiences coming time and again.

Be sure to come to Park Square Theatre this summer to get your Girl Friday fix! Not only will it tide you over for another two years, but you also won’t want to miss what will surely top another favorites list.

Gabriel Murphy: From His Viewpoint

Gabriel Murphy has previously graced our Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Park Square Theatre’s 4000 Miles in the 2014-2105 season) and Wonderlust Productions’ Six Characters in Search of an Author (2015-2016). This season, he appears on our Proscenium Stage in Park Square’s regional premiere of Amy’s View from May 12 to June 4, playing the pivotal role of Amy’s rather narcissistic partner, Dominic, who sorely tests her lifelong belief that love conquers all.

As Dominic, Gabriel is also the match that lights the fire of conflict between the mother-daughter pair of Esme and Amy, portrayed by Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney, respectively. But don’t be surprised if his character also sparks heated debate amongst audience members regarding the boundaries of love.

Recently, Gabriel answered questions that I had about his character as well as himself. Here’s what he had to say:

What attracted you to the role of Dominic?

Honestly, I was initially attracted to the role of Dominic because it meant being reunited with Linda Kelsey and Director Gary Gisselman. We’d worked together on 4000 Miles, which was such a fantastic experience for me. I’m so grateful to be back in a rehearsal room with the two of them as well as with the rest of this delightful cast. In addition to that, I’m excited to be tackling such an intelligent character. Dominic has many flaws, but he is incredibly smart and ambitious. Those are fun qualities to explore.

Yours is a key “triggering” role in the play. What is/are the biggest challenge(s) in playing Dominic?

Triggering, indeed! Dominic does have a tendency to rub people the wrong way. Dominic can be arrogant and caustic, but he and Amy do share a real love so I suppose the biggest challenge in playing Dominic is making sure I don’t ignore his humor and warmth. I also find David Hare’s language inherently challenging. He is a brilliant playwright so tackling his dialogue is a delightful challenge.

How is playing Dominic changing your personal view on relationships, life, etc.?

As a young actor attempting to establish myself in the Twin Cities, I can sometimes focus very intensely on my career. Playing Dominic is an excellent reminder for me that ambition has its drawbacks. In the play, Amy’s titular view is that people should give love without any conditions or expectations so, you know, that’s not a bad thing to think about.

How did you end up being an actor?

I went to a tiny private school in Kansas with a graduating class of 22 people. My school was so small that everyone was required to participate in extracurricular activities because, otherwise, we wouldn’t have had enough people to put on plays or create sports teams. Basically, I began doing plays by force!

Anything else that you would like the readers to know about the play or yourself?

For being such a compact play, Amy’s View manages to cover a huge span of time in the lives of these characters. David Hare’s writing is incredibly funny and witty; but every day in rehearsal, the heart in the play strikes me. I’m always caught off guard by how moving the play is. Also, this is the second play I’ve done with Linda and Gary in which I spend the first moments of the show dealing with a bicycle. In reality, I’ve actually never learned how to ride a bicycle. My boyfriend is making that my project for the summer.

Gabriel Murphy (center) in rehearsal with Linda Kelsey, Tracey Maloney and Nathaniel Fuller (left to right) (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Don’t miss seeing Gabriel Murphy in Amy’s View. Then return to Park Square to catch him again this summer in Idiot’s Delight, presented by Girl Friday Productions, on our Andy Boss Thrust Stage from June 29 to July 23. 

 

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